Voices of NOW NYC: Putting an End to the “N� and “H� Words

renee.jpg
Renee Morgan-Saks is a 24 year old native of Washington Heights, New York and a member of NOW-NYC. She is currently working at a women’s rights legal advocacy organization and plans to attend law school to study public interest law.
Don Imus is back on the air. Not that I need to remind you, but here’s a little recap of what lead to the Imus debacle:
IMUS: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and—
McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos…
IMUS: That’s some nappy-headed hos there…. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute…
McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing…
McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes — that movie that he had.
“That movie that he had� is School Daze. In the film, the Wannabees, like “the girls from Tennessee,� are considered good-looking because they are light-skinned with “good hair� (read: straight or wavy, most likely from being chemically processed). The Jigaboos, on the other hand, who have darker skin and natural hair (“nappy�), are considered less attractive.


In this context, by using “nappy-headed� to describe the natural hair texture of African Americans, Imus suggests that Black people in their natural state are ugly.
In a culture where women are largely valued on their physical appearance, those who don’t fit conventional standards of beauty are deemed less worthy of respect. It is only natural that many of us have internalized these ideals.
And the representation of Black people in the media doesn’t help Black women develop a healthy self image or contribute to others forming a positive view of Black people. Stereotypical images of Black men and women have been fairly consistent from early 20th century minstrelsy, through the Blaxploitation era of the 70’s, to today.
Let’s return to the Imus incident. In addition to his blatant racism and sexism, I find Imus’ claim to have learned “nappy-headed hos� from hip-hop music disturbing. Instead of taking responsibility for his misogynist and racist comments, he attempted to scapegoat the Hip-Hop community (and Black American culture by association). I find it hard to believe that a 67 year old white man learned racism and sexism from Hip-Hop.
But let’s not get it twisted; Hip-Hop culture is a subset of American culture. The racial stereotypes, homophobia and degradation of women in mainstream hip-hop are reflective of American culture, not the other way around. Racism and sexism are American values, not ones unique to the Hip-Hop community. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should sit back and listen. NOW-NYC’s Women, Girls & Media Committee has taken to the streets at Virgin Records and music conglomerate Viacom to protest
the mainstreaming of racism and sexism in the music industry.
And to help refocus the spotlight on Imus, NOW-NYC took its activism to the airwaves, calling for him to be fired and rallying members to send letters of protest to CBS Radio and MSNBC.
A few months later, the issue of misogynistic language was revived in the media when Isiah Thomas, coach of the New York Knicks, admitted in a taped deposition that while it’s unacceptable for a white man (think: Don Imus) to call a woman a “bitch,� it was tolerable for Black men to do so. Under no circumstance is anyone entitled to call a woman a bitch. Nor is it acceptable to rationalize the abuse and disrespect of Black women with racist stereotypes, as Thomas did.
An insult is an insult, no matter who says it.
Which is exactly why influential figures in the media need to set an example for their audiences and put a stop to the acceptability of sexism and racism – under any circumstances.

and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

14 Comments

  1. e_edwards_ellis
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for pointing out that the hip-hop world is a sub-culture and the sub-culture of rap isn’t all misogynistic. You go, girl!

  2. e_edwards_ellis
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for pointing out that the hip-hop world is a sub-culture and the sub-culture of rap isn’t all misogynistic. You go, girl!

  3. Posted December 14, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Exactly! There is a lot of great social commentary in hip-hop as well as just some great non-offensive music.
    I think the fact that it’s mostly the misogynistic stuff that gets mainstream radio play says more about our society as a whole than anything else.

  4. Mina
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    “Thanks so much for pointing out that the hip-hop world is a sub-culture and the sub-culture of rap isn’t all misogynistic. You go, girl!”
    Yeah!
    “The racial stereotypes, homophobia and degradation of women in mainstream hip-hop are reflective of American culture, not the other way around. Racism and sexism are American values, not ones unique to the Hip-Hop community.”
    I’d like to add that racism and sexism aren’t even unique to America either.
    Meanwhile, speaking of rappers who aren’t racist and non-Americans who are, I’m reminded of K Mel and Cheb Mami’s rap/raï “Parisien Du Nord,” about racism in France.

  5. air14
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    It’s a pity that a search for “cheb mami” leads to an article about him forcing an abortion upon his then girlfriend and an arrest warrant being issued for him for ‘voluntary violence’. Semi-good news, the abortion wasn’t successful and she gave birth to a girl, 8 months old at May 2007.

  6. Mina
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    “It’s a pity that a search for ‘cheb mami’ leads to an article about him forcing an abortion upon his then girlfriend and an arrest warrant being issued for him for ‘voluntary violence’.”
    Thanks for the info. I didn’t know that until you posted it. Now I’m hoping K Mel doesn’t turn out to be an asshole too.
    See, this is what I get for not keeping up with pop culture news – I can’t be sure ahead of time if I’m going to embarass myself by recommending a tune I like.

  7. kittycat
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I’m glad someone is was pointed out that it is never acceptable to call a woman a bitch. I was watching Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency (I like the – erm, insight- the show gives me about male models as well as female.) and a certain Australian client of theirs called Janice a bitch right in front of her models. When Janice asked that he please re-phrase his statement he refused to do so. Since he was a client she politely continued with the meeting.
    Anyone who’s seen the show or seen her on ANTM knows that she has a reputation for speaking her mind and sticking firm to her opinions of people in terms of their ability to model. It bothers me that this has earned her the title of “bitch” when if she was a man no one would dream of insulting her so openly, and they certainly wouldn’t call him a bastard for it.
    It wasn’t ok for the client to say what he did about her. Had he not been such an important client I’m sure she would have told him to take a hike. As it was, she waited until he was gone, then vented her anger behind the scenes. The client later heard about this and fired her. So much for justice.

  8. ChannelXRFR
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    How about a little activism directed towards the NBA – with demands for sanctions for Jim Dolan, Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marburry?
    There is apparently no consequence for sexually harassing and predatory behavior. In the NBA drunk driving will result in fines and suspensions as it is you are better off sexually harassing women then driving drunk.

  9. Posted December 16, 2007 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    How about a little activism directed towards the NBA – with demands for sanctions for Jim Dolan, Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marburry?
    And you’re doing, what now?

  10. Posted December 17, 2007 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    right… the question then becomes one of censorship, which is a much more complicated and difficult position to defend than the one being put forth here. i think many people would agree that using the ‘n’ word or the ‘h’ word or the ‘b’ word is distasteful, at best, and racist/sexist, at worst. the question then becomes, so what do you do about people using words as weapons? and where does the slippery slope end? do you ban these words… like the christians who want to ban harry potter books? do we ban other words, like ‘articulate’ or ‘blonde’ that also have negative racial and gender implications? or do you use these public incidents to create a discourse where there is an absence of dialogue on what these words mean to particular groups of people (and not in a homogeneous way, either)? do you begin to explore how language shapes a culture, and is also shaped by it? granted, these aren’t the only options, but my leaning is more toward the latter two.

  11. Posted December 18, 2007 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Nice post. One quibble…I think there is no need to get rid of the “n-word” as in “nappy.” As a black woman who is proudly nappy, I view the problem as our culture’s insistence that kinky, coily, nappy hair is less beautiful than straight, silky hair. It is not.

  12. Posted December 18, 2007 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Nice post. One quibble…I think there is no need to get rid of the “n-word” as in “nappy.” As a black woman who is proudly nappy, I view the problem as our culture’s insistence that kinky, coily, nappy hair is less beautiful than straight, silky hair. It is not.

  13. Posted December 18, 2007 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    This is what enrages me about “black vs. white” racism. Black rappers and others in the hip hop/rap culture use derogitory terms toward women all the time, as well as racist terms like the “n” word and others. How many times have you heard a black individual on tv say “cracker” or “honky” toward a white individual – oh, but apparently that’s okay, right? *scoffs*
    I’m not saying I agree with what Don Imus said, because I do think it was inappropriate and not very well thought out, I think that if he is to be taken off the radio and to lose his job, so should all the rappers like Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre who do nothing but demean women and bring bad stereotypes to the black community, including by using the “n” word repeatedly.
    It’s like telling your child not to smoke while you have a cigarette in your mouth.
    If I were black, I’d be more enraged about this, than Don Imus taking racist and sexist pot-shots at a women’s basketball team.

  14. Posted December 18, 2007 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Chantilly,
    I am a black woman and I agree with you that the violence and misogyny in mainstream hip hop is abhorent.And you should know that I am far from alone. If you would but surf around the Web and visit some of the most prominent black blogs you would be introduced to men and women who are speaking out against prejudice everywhere it exists, not just where it exists among white people. Try visiting http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com.
    That some black people have internalized racist and sexist thought, and spout epithets best laid to rest, is no excuse for anyone else to do the same.
    Anyway, I have a hard time believing that Don Imus lies awake at night listening to JayZ CDs to pick up the latest lingo for denigrating black women.
    Lastly, perhaps we just watch different TV shows, but I haven’t heard the words “cracker” or “honky” since that time I stumbled upon a 70s blaxsploitation marathon on AMC.

178 queries. 0.899 seconds